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Chateau de Croixmare,
Dearest Mamma,--I am quite sure I shall never be able to stand the
whole fortnight more here. We got back on Monday evening, and Godmamma
was as disagreeable as could be. She said all sorts of spiteful things
about the Tournelles, and especially the Baronne; and Jean looked
nervous and uncomfortable, and H�loise like a mule; and Victorine said
I had no doubt enjoyed myself, but for her part she would be sorry to
be taken for a "young married woman," which was what Madame de Visac (a
woman who came to call after we left) had said--"Qui est cette jeune
femme avec votre belle soeur?"
[Sidenote: _Modest Maidens_]
She had seen us embarking. So I said I was flattered, as that seemed to
mean in France all that was attractive in contrast to the girls. Did
you ever hear of such a _cat_, Mamma? and considering that I am only
seventeen, and she is an old maid of twenty-two; I think it too
ridiculous. She need not fear, no one would ever think she was
married, she looks like a lumping German governess. Two of her girl
friends came to breakfast yesterday, of course with their mothers, and
you should have heard the idiot conversation we had! All plopped down
on the great sofa in the big salon, like a row of dolls. The two
friends were simply gasping with excitement at the idea of my having
gone on the _Sauterelle_. They asked me endless questions, and giggled,
and I _did_ tell them some things!
They asked also about England, and was it really true that when we went
to a ball we stayed with our _danseurs_ till the next dance? I said I
had not been to a ball yet, but had always heard that is what one did.
One of the friends is quite nice-looking, but with such dirty nails. It
appears you don't wash much till you are married, it is not considered
_bien vu_, in fact rather _lanc�_, and you can't have fine
under-clothes, it has all got to be as unattractive as possible, and
that shows you are as good as gold and will make a nice wife.
[Sidenote: _The Trouville Casino_]
But it must be a bother picking up a taste for having baths and things
afterwards, if it isn't from instinct, don't you think so, Mamma? And
I am glad I am not French. It is even eccentric if you sleep with your
window open; H�loise screamed at me for that. They all assure me it
gives sore eyes, besides encouraging an early grave. I said at last
that in England we slept the whole summer in the open air. I was so
exasperated, and they would believe anything.
Oh, I wish we were back on the _Sauterelle!_--which reminds me I have
never told you anything about Trouville. The whole place was full of
such beautiful ladies, and such nice clothes. They must all have been
married, their things were so becoming. The Vicomte seemed to know them
well, and they all spoke of them by their Christian names, such as,
_Voil� Blanche d'Antin!_ or _Emilie_ something else, as we passed them,
but none of our party bowed to the really pretty ones, which I thought
very queer if they knew them well enough to speak of them by their
Christian names. I remember you always told me never to do that--I mean
to use people's first names in speaking of them if you are not
acquainted with them--but evidently it is different here. The
Tournelles and all the others did stop to speak to heaps of duller
looking people, and every one tried to persuade us to stay and go to
We went to the Casino in the evening and saw a piece; it was boring. We
had two boxes, and they kept talking to me all the time, so I really
could not pay much attention to the acting.
Down below us was the Marquise de Vermandoise's brother-in-law, with a
rather dowdy little woman. They talked a great deal about him, and the
Marquise said it was just like his economy to go to Trouville with such
"une esp�ce de petite fagott�e bon march�." So I suppose it was some
poor relation he was treating, but they seemed very good friends, as he
held her hand all the time, quite forgetting the people up above could
see. Then we played "Petits Chevaux," and I won every time; I do like
it very much.
[Sidenote: _A Bathing Party_]
We came back to Vinant by the two o'clock train, but first we went to
bathe. I was really annoyed at having to have a hired dress, a
frightful thing, and weighing a ton. The Marquise and the others had
brought theirs on the chance of our having time for a dip. The
Baronne's and H�loise's were too sweet. The Baronne's cap had the same
kind of lovely little curls round it that she wears at night; but she
is a great coward, and hardly went in deeper than her ankles, in spite
of all the entreaties of "Antoine" and the Vicomte. The Marquise de
Vermandoise looks splendid in the water, just like a goddess, and her
bathing-dress was thin enough red silk for us to see how beautifully
she is made. The splashing about seemed to make her so gay, she kept
putting her tongue into the gap where her tooth is gone, and looked so
wicked they would all have swam anywhere after her. She and de
Tournelle went out a long way to a boat, and they did seem to be having
a good time. I wish I could swim like that.
H�loise and "Antoine" made _la planche_ together; it is simply
floating, only you have some one to hold you up in case you float out
too far. The Vicomte wanted to teach me, and as I was getting rather
tired of pretending to swim with one leg down, I tried, and it feels
lovely, and we did laugh so over it. At last the Baronne came out quite
up to her knees to call to us "Tr�mors, c'est d�fendu de faire des
b�tises." I suppose she thought he would let me drown.
Jean and the Comtesse de Tournelle watched us from the _plage_. The old
Baron swims splendidly, and went quite out of sight. Hippolyte was
waiting among the other servants with our _peignoirs_, and presently he
clapped his hands to insure attention, and shouted, "Il ne faut pas que
Madame la Baronne reste trop longtemps se mouillant les pieds, elle
prendrait froid, mieux vaut sortir de l'eau!"
[Sidenote: _End of the Trip_]
I am glad my hair curls naturally, because I laughed so at the face of
Hippolyte, gesticulating at the Baronne, that I did not pay attention
to a wave, and it threw me over, and I went right under water. The
Vicomte pulled me up, but there was no need of him to have been so
long about it, and I told him so. He apologised, and said it was his
fear that I should drown, but we were only up to our chests in water,
so I don't believe it a bit. After that we came out, and it is just as
well one has a _peignoir_ to put on immediately, as the bathing gowns
are so tight and thin, when wet they look quite odd. There were
hundreds of other people bathing too, and some of the dresses were so
pretty. One was all black and very tight, with red dragons running over
it, and she had a gold bangle on her ankle. I wish we could have stayed
longer, it was so gay.
In the train coming back we played all sorts of games. Jean and the old
Baron went "smoking," and we eight squashed into the same carriage, so
as not to be separated. We had to go right up to Paris (as the express
does not stop at Vinant), and then back again. One can just see the
high roof of Croixmare from the train. Yesterday those tiresome girls
came to _d�je�ner_, and to-day we go to pay another visit of ceremony
at the Tournelles', to thank them for our nice trip. I shall be glad
to see them again after looking at Godmamma for two whole days.
The evenings are awful. Although it is so warm no one thinks of walking
in the garden, or even sitting out on the _perron_. When we come out
from dinner, though it is broad daylight, every shutter is shut and
curtains drawn, and there we sit in the salon, all arranged round in a
semi-circle, and make conversation, and _sirop_ comes at nine, and,
thank goodness, we get off to bed at ten! But even if you wanted to
talk nicely to the person sitting by you you couldn't, because every
one would at once stop what they were saying and listen. There is going
to be an entertainment at the Tournelles' in about a week, a kind of
_f�te champ�tre_. We are to dine in a pavilion in the garden, and then
have a _cotillon_.-Good-bye, dear Mamma, with love from your
affectionate daughter, Elizabeth.
Ch�teau de Croixmare,
[Sidenote: _Croixmare again_]
Dearest Mamma,--The longer I stay, here the more glad I am that I am
not French! Victorine is going to be shown to her future _fianc�_
to-day, but I must first tell you how it came about. We went to Ch�teau
de Tournelle yesterday to pay our visit, Godmamma, Victorine, and I in
the victoria, and Jean and H�loise in the phaeton. They were in the
garden playing tennis with a party of friends from Versailles, and
among them, of course, the Vicomte and "Antoine." They were all so glad
to see me, and the Baronne called me her "_ch�re petite_," and kissed
me on both cheeks, as if we had been parted for months. The
Vicomte--when he had done putting his heels together and bowing to
Victorine and me, and kissing H�loise's and Godmamma's hands--managed
to get in, in a lower voice, that his ride from Versailles now seemed
to him to have been very short. Upon which Victorine at once said,
"_Comment?_" with the expression of a terrier whose ears are suddenly
cocked up on the alert. He bowed more deeply than ever, and said that
he was saying it was a long ride from Versailles! So you see that
Frenchmen are not truthful, Mamma! Well--then we were sent to look at
the gardens, accompanied by Jean and the Cur�.
[Sidenote: _An Untruthful Frenchman_]
The Comtesse "adores" _le tennis_, and plays very well, it quite
animates her. The Baronne plays too, but she doesn't hit the ball much,
and screams most of the time; she was in the middle of a game when we
arrived, and only stopped to pay all kinds of civilities to our party.
Her pretty feet show when she runs about, but she wears a large black
tulle hat with fluffy strings, and it does not seem very suitable for
tennis. I had to walk with the old Cur� when the path was not wide
enough to trot all together. The gardens really are lovely, with all
kinds of strange shrubs and trees, and _fontaines_ and _bosquets_, and
nooks, but I don't see the least use in them if one has always to walk
three in a row, if not more, do you, Mamma? The Cur� was a charming old
fellow, and explained all the plants to me. We had no sooner got back
to the tennis ground than one felt something momentous was taking place
between Godmamma and the Baronne. She had finished her tennis, and they
were sitting away from the others, nodding their heads together.
Victorine at once put on a conscious air, and minced more than usual.
"Antoine" and H�loise seemed speaking seriously, while she examined his
new racket. The Vicomte had begun a game, so could not talk to us, but
some more officers were introduced, and, after the usual bowing, we
began to talk.
"Vous aimez le tennis, mademoiselle?"
"Oui, monsieur," from Victorine. "Moi, je le d�teste," from me.
"Pas possible!" from every one.
"Je vous assure on ne joue que le croquet chez nous."
"Le croquet," from Victorine, "un jeu de Couvent!"
"Le croquet! Et les anglais qui n'aiment que l'exercice!" from the
officers, &c., &c.
Very interesting, you see, one's conversations here!
[Sidenote: _A Marriage Arranged_]
All this time the Baronne and Godmamma were nodding their heads, and
when Jean and H�loise joined them, they looked like those sets of
mandarins that used to be on Uncle Charles's mantelpiece, and as we
said Good-bye, the Baronne said to Godmamma, "Bien, ch�re madame, c'est
entendu alors c'est pour demain."
All the way home in the carriage, Victorine simpered. I felt I could
have slapped her.
In the evening there was an air of mystery about them all, and, quite
unlike her usual custom, H�loise came into my room to chat when I was
going to bed. Of course Agn�s stayed as long as she could, but no
sooner had we got rid of her, than H�loise told me what it was all
about. It appears the Baronne has a nephew, who has made a heap of
debts; he is a Marquis, and he wants to "redorer le blason." It is
necessary for him to secure a large dot, but he is "si terriblement
volage," that the extreme plainness of Victorine may put him off. The
Baronne has been arranging it, and he is to be brought with his parent
to breakfast, to sample her!
They have not seen one another yet, and it has been difficult to get
him to face the situation seriously. Victorine has been dragging on so,
that the family will be delighted to let her go, even to a less fortune
than she has. "Ils devraient �tre joliment contents, un gros paquet
comme �a!" as Hippolyte, who knows every one's business, said to the
Baronne's maid--H�loise told me--and that explains it; she said it
would be such a _mercy_ if he will settle the affair at once. She had
come to ask me a favour. I did wonder what it was! And you will laugh,
Mamma, when you hear! Victorine is sure to be nervous, H�loise said,
and in that case her face gets red, and it would be a pity to distract
his attention in any way, and in short would I mind putting on my most
unbecoming dress, and not speaking while the Marquis is here?
[Sidenote: _The Fianc� Appears_]
So here I am, Mamma, writing to you up in my room, dressed in that
horrid _beige_ linen that we chose at night, and I shan't go down till
_d�je�ner_ is ready, pouf! I can hear a carriage coming, I must go to
the window. Yes, it is the _fianc�_, accompanied by his mother and
aunt. He is nice-looking, except that he has got a silly fair beard. I
can hear them arriving in the hall; such a lot of talking!
H�loise and Victorine have just been here. H�loise even has got an ugly
dress on, and Victorine has scrubbed her face with soap--I suppose to
get that greasy look off--until it shines like an apple, her nose is
crimson, and her eyes look like two beads. They have gone downstairs.
More talking--I am sure he is putting his heels together. I'll finish
this after they have gone, so as to tell you what happens.
_Evening_.--Such a day! After I had heard mumbling talking for quite a
while--the windows were all open, and the salon is under me--suddenly
the piano began. Victorine plays really well generally--that is, she
has brilliant execution--but you should have heard the jumble! hardly a
note right, and in the middle of it up rushed H�loise to me and sank
into a chair. It was going as badly as it possibly could, she said.
Victorine was so nervous that her voice was like a file, and her face
so crimson that the Marquis must think she has erysipelas! And then, to
complete matters, when she is told by Godmamma to show her
accomplishments, to think that she should play like this! Especially as
the Marquis is very musical! H�loise said she could see he was quite
"d�go�t�," and the only thing for it now, was for me to change my frock
instantly, and to put on a becoming one, and to go down and talk. Then
he would go away having enjoyed his visit, he won't reason why, and
will come again; and then when I am gone, he can be pushed into the
marriage with Victorine!
She rang for Agn�s while she spoke, and I was simply pitched into the
blue _batiste_, and hustled downstairs.
Such a scene in the salon! The Baronne seated on the large sofa with
Jean; Godmamma and the mother of the young man in two of the armchairs;
while Victorine fumbled with some music on the piano with the _dame de
compagnie_, whom H�loise calls "_le Remorqueur_," because she looks
like a teeny tug pulling along a coal barge (Victorine). The Marquis
was standing up by himself--with his hat and gloves in his hand--first
on one foot, then on the other; and Marie and Yolande were making
horrid, shuffling, squeaking noises, sliding on the _parquet_ by the
[Sidenote: _Wandering Glances_]
When I was introduced and had made a reverence to the old ladies, the
Marquis was presented, and when we had done bowing, he said: "Vous �tes
anglaise, mademoiselle?" and, even for that, Victorine's eyes shot two
yellow flames at me! H�loise nipped my arm to tell me to talk, so of
course everything went out of my head, and I could only think of "Oui,
monsieur." Just then breakfast was announced, and we all went in
arm-in-arm, Godmamma and the Marquis together. It is a huge round
table, and I had done the flowers, because they wanted to be shown how
we have tables in England. I was next but one to the Marquis, with
H�loise between. We had scarcely sat down, when he began. How beautiful
the table looked, and what taste in the flowers! Upon which H�loise
said, that they _were_ lovely, and were the arrangement of her "_ch�re
petite belle-soeur!_" and she smiled angelically at Victorine, who
looked down with conscious pride. Then H�loise said that it was a great
joy in life to have the absorbing love of flowers as Victorine had! and
I could not help laughing, because Victorine doesn't know one from
another, and would not even help me this morning. The Marquis looked
and looked at me when I laughed, and then lifting his glass of _vin
ordinaire_, he said: "Les belles dents rendent gai." Wasn't it nice of
him? I think it is hard he should be tied to Victorine. He talked to me
all the time after that, across H�loise, and considering she told me to
be agreeable to him, I don't see why she should have been annoyed.
After breakfast--which we left as usual arm-in-arm--we sat in the
salon, while the Marquis and Jean went back to smoke. It was appalling!
If Victorine had been a four-legged cat, she would have spit at me, but
fortunately the two-legged ones can't spit in drawing-rooms, so I
escaped. The Baronne, after a good deal of manoeuvring, got by me near
the window, and then said in a distinct voice, "Ma petite ch�rie j'ai
trop chaud, donnez-moi votre bras un instant;" and so we got outside on
the terrace, where the huge orange trees in pots stand.
[Sidenote: _A Lecture on Duty_]
As soon as we were out of earshot, she began to scold me. Why had I
attracted the Marquis? how naughty of me, when it was essential his
debts should be paid, etc., etc. If she had not been so nice, I should
have been furious, and you can see, Mamma, how impossible to understand
them it is; to be told one moment to be nice, and then, when one is, to
be scolded! I just said as respectfully as I could, that I had done
nothing, and that H�loise had told me to do it, and the reason why.
That made the Baronne think a little. I am sure she wished for the
advice of Hippolyte; but the end of it was, that she asked me how much
_dot_ you were going to allow me! I said I did not know, and that
seemed to stump her. At last she said she supposed, as we were people
of consideration, and that I was the only child, it would be something
considerable. I do believe, Mamma, she was thinking that I might do
for the Marquis! It was only a question of having his debts paid--any
one who could do that would answer. It did make me _cross_, just as if
I would dream of marrying into a nation that eats badly, and doesn't
have a bath except to be smart. Think of always having to shout across
the table, day after day, and never to be able to do anything except by
rules and regulations; and the stuffy rooms and the eight armchairs! I
saw myself! and probably ending up with a moustache, or an
_embonpoint_, or something like that.
The Baronne at last patted my hand, and said: Well, well, she supposed
I had not meant anything, but that I _must_ leave the Marquis alone,
and turn my attention to "Gaston" (the Vicomte), who was really in love
with me. Then if I made him sufficiently miserable, he would be willing
to fall in with another plan of hers, when I was gone, through sheer
_d�soeuvrement_. So you see, Mamma, they look upon me as a regular
catspaw, and I won't put up with it. I shall just talk to the Marquis
or "Gaston" whenever I like, I was quite polite to the Baronne,
because she is such a dear; but I am afraid, if Godmamma had said it
all, I should have been impudent.
[Sidenote: _An Alternative Plan_]
By this time the others had joined us on the terrace. They had all been
up to fix their hats on, because even if you have been out, and are
running out again just after, you always have to take your hat off, and
make a _toilette_ for _d�je�ner_; it does seem waste of time. The
Baronne is considered quite eccentric because she keeps hers on
sometimes. I had not even a parasol. Godmamma looked as if she thought
it almost indecent. Presently Jean and the Marquis came out of the
smoking-room and joined us. The Marquis at once began to pay
compliments about the sun on my hair, and was really so clever in
getting in little things, while he was talking to Godmamma, that I
quite took to him. Victorine had to converse with her future
_belle-m�re_ all the time, and finally the carriage came round, and
They were no sooner out of sight, than Godmamma said, with a long
rigmarole, that she felt it her duty to you to look after me, and she
must tell me that it was _inconvenant_ for a young girl to smile or
speak to a man as much as I had done to the Marquis. I was so furious
at that, that I said, as I found it impossible to understand their
ways, I would ask Agn�s to pack my things at once, if she would kindly
spare a servant to go with a telegram to you, to say I was coming home
immediately. She was petrified at my answering her! It appears no one
else ever dares to; and she at once tried to smooth me down, especially
when I said I should just like time to write and tell the Baronne why I
was leaving, as she had been so kind to me. After that they all tried
to cajole me, except Victorine, who left the room and slammed the door.
And so I have consented to stay, and here I am finishing my letter to
you.--With best love, from your affectionate daughter, Elizabeth.
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